DOHA- Lelisa Desisa ended an 18-year wait for Ethiopia when he triumphed in a sprint finish against compatriot Mosinet Geremew to win a midnight marathon at the World Athletics Championship on Sunday.
Desisa, last year’s New York marathon winner and world silver medalist in Moscow six years ago, became the first Ethiopian to win the title since Gezahegne Abera in 2001.
Geremew, four seconds behind, took silver and Amos Kipruto of Kenya the bronze.
The race in Qatar ended in a heartbreak for Britain’s Callum Hawkins who managed to close the gap on the leaders near the end only to finish fourth for the second time running, this time missing out on the medal by six seconds.
“This is for 100 million of Ethiopians who were behind me,” said Desisa. “I am the second man from my country to win this title and it is not just for me, it is for my country.”
As with the other road races during the championship, the race started just before midnight to escape the worst of the heat and humidity.
Conditions were less brutal than previously although it was still 29.09 Celsius with 48.6% humidity at the start, organizers said, and 55 of the 73 starters completed the course – the last, Nicolas Cuestas of Uruguay, finishing half an hour behind the winner.
Desisa said he had been training especially for the conditions.
“I trained in a place with these weather condition, so this race was not hard – it was similar to my training,” he said.
The runners did six laps of a seven-kilometer loop of Doha’s waterfront although it was again a surreal atmosphere with virtually no spectators lining the route. The only encouragement for the runners came from team delegates and reporters near the finish line.
Paraguay’s Derlys Ayala hared off at the start and gave himself a 150 meter-lead over the rest of the field within the first kilometer. He managed to keep the lead for around an hour before being swallowed by the pack and then dropping out.
Eventually, Desisa, Geremew, Kipruto, Stephen Mokoka and Zersenay Tadese broke away from the rest and took control of the race.
After several kilometers of cat and mouse, they were caught by Dawkins with three kilometers left to set up an enthralling finish.
Mokoka and Tadese were the first to be dropped before Dawkins also lost contact around one kilometer from the end. Kipruto was also unable to keep up and it ended with Desisa charging away to claim the gold.
“(I’m) gutted,” said Hawkins. “Maybe I just gave too much in the middle stages. But I couldn’t do any more.”